Million Dollar Arm enters theaters today and it’s a great movie to go see. You learn the story of two sports agents that come up with a great idea about finding talent in India. Aasif Mandvi plays Aash who he already knew.
Q: What was it like portraying a real live person instead of making it up totally and what kind of inspiration did you get from the actual Aash?
Aasif Mandvi: Well I know Aash. I’ve known him from before I did this movie. So we have mutual friends. And he’s not married. He doesn’t have kids. The real Aash is very different than the Aash in the movie so I didn’t really worry about trying to portray him at all. I just created a character for the purposes of the film because the real Aash is more like JB in the sense of he’s kind of like a single guy. He’s a tough guy in San Francisco. It was interesting to play someone who actually is a real person. I’d never done that before. So now people always want to take pictures of the two of us together. And he’s thrilled because like I said, we’ve known each other for a long time. So it’s exciting for him to have somebody he knows actually portray him in the film so it was good.
Aasif Mandvi was a pleasure to interview. He was funny laid back and just seemed like a great guy. I mean as you can tell this was a fun project for him, it shows in the interview and the acting he did in the movie. Here is the rest of the interview with him.
Q: I read you were a performer at Walt Disney World and now you are in Disney’s Million Dollar Arm, what has that experience been like going into this?
Aasif Mandvi: In terms of like being Disney? Uh, well you know, I was a street performer at the Disney/MGM Studios and now I was like in a Disney movie so it’s a very, very different experience. There’s less catering involved. You don’t get a trailer, you don’t get catering, make up and hair, nothing. So it was great. Disney’s MGM Studios was first job out of college so it was kind of an amazing experience. It was my first professional acting job, you know, it was really fun. Like we sort of opened the MGM Studios back in ’89 and did these street performing characters and so it was a great place to learn comedy and learn improv and it was amazing, you know. So it was right. Funny when I started. I hope this is not where I end but it’s where I started, you know. So yeah it came full circle, right?
Q: So what was your favorite scene to film in the movie and why?
Aasif Mandvi: My favorite scene to film. I mean, it was really actually fun going to India and shooting because you know, having been born there and have family there and have visited India many times, it’s a whole different experience when you go with an American film crew to India. It’s actually the best way to see India is to be in the bubble of a big Hollywood production. You don’t have to deal with any riff raff going around, you know, and having an air conditioned car and stuff. It was great. I got to see the Taj Mahal, which I’ve always wanted to and never had. And now I got to do it on Disney’s dime so you know, so it was kind of great. Yeah.
Q: I liked the way your character was the funny man next to Jon Hamm’s straight man. Was that what attracted you to the role and what was it that made you want to do this Film?
Aasif Mandvi: I think he’s funny but he’s also the grounding character, you know. He’s the one that sort of is the counter point to Jon Hamm’s sort of playboy lothario character. I like that aspect of it. I also feel like it was an interesting character to see as a south Asian sports agent because I don’t know any, you know. I’m sure there are but it was sort of an interesting character to play, somebody I never played before so I felt that was kind of fun. And then I got to work with Jon Hamm every day who is dreamy so… (everyone laughs) I got do that, you know.
Q: What was it like working with the babies?
Aasif Mandvi: Oh the twins. Well, ok, so they had two sets of twins. So it wasn’t the same (babies), but you can’t tell because they’re Indian and probably look alike. (everyone laughs) But if you watch closely, you see that they’re actually two sets of different twins. The twins that I’m feeding in the kitchen are not the same twins that I’m holding on the porch. So we’ve got these two sets of Indian parents who have these two sets of twins and they’re – poor things - sort of hiding off in the corner like new parents – and the kids would just cry. And the scene was not about these kids crying, and — and Craig Craig Gillespie the Director was like, you know kids cry. So let him just cry because there’s no way we can stop them from crying. So we just used it. So Craig’s theory was like every time we see Ash and his children, his children are just screaming. And that’s just the reality of his life. So in the bed, they’re crying. They weren’t supposed to be crying. In the kitchen, they’re crying. And then, the pièce de résistance is that on the porch, the kids were again, crying and I’m supposed to be holding them, and the kid is literally screaming for his mother. He’s just like, I don’t care about your stupid movie, I want to be with my mom. And he’s like MOM! And finally I said to Craig, listen, I can’t do this anymore. There’s snot coming out of him and he’s crying. He’s just a mess, you know. And Craig was like, listen we’ve got to get this shot, OK? We need this shot. I don’t care how much, just let the kid cry. I don’t care. Just grab him, walk out onto the porch, we get the shot, we’re done. We’re out of here. So I’m like fine. So they roll action, I grab this kid, it’s like pulling cheese off a pizza. I grab this kid, and we go running on to the porch and I’m standing there getting the shot. I’m shaking him and then suddenly he looks at me and just puked. (we are all dying laughing) And it’s just all over my clothes. And twice, he did it twice. And it’s in the movie. And you can see it. So like it’s totally real. I take the kid, I’m holding him out here like “an actor” who’s suddenly been puked on and the kid is just puking. He’s just –there’s puke everywhere. It’s all in my clothes, in my hair. But we got the shot.
Q: Had you read the story before you read the script?
Aasif Mandvi: No I’d never heard of it. I’m also not a huge sports guy so I didn’t know about the story at all but when I heard about it because I knew Aash. And then there was this whole thing of like oh, there’s this movie being made called “Million Dollar Arm” with these two (Indian baseball players) and Aash was the guy who got them to America and you know, I knew all of it through my friends and that my friend Aash was involved in making this movie. That’s how I found out about it.
Q: Are you working on any new projects right now?
Aasif Mandvi: I’m actually doing an HBO Series called “The Brink” with Jack Black and Tim Robbins so that’s gonna come out next year. It’s good. It’s a comedy about the end of the world and sort of like the world is on the brink of Armageddon. It’s a Geo-Political Comedy. It’s sort of like seen through the eyes of 3 departments of US Government so State Department, Foreign Service, and the Military but it’s a Comedy. And it’s a half hour. So it’s sort of like Dr. Strangelove. It’s nice cause like they stuff I have done on the Daily Show for years is sort of in that vein of clearly satirical political sort of stuff. And so this is kind of in keeping with that stuff but it’s from a narrative standpoint, so I’m working on that.
And I have a book coming out at the end of the year. So you guys can all blog about that. The book is called “No Land’s Man” and it’s basically stories of my life from like growing up as a kid in England to like moving to Florida and being a high school student in Florida and then coming to New York, and my career. So it’s sort of essays, humorous essays that are kind of Sedarisesque sort of stories. So that’s coming out in November.
Q: Talk about working with the guys on set.
Aasif Mandvi: With Madhur and Suraj? Yeah, no they’re great. You know, cause I’m a lot older than them so they sort of became like little brothers to me. Suraj is like really sort of nice and easy going. And Mad was kind of a pain in the ass. So I had that very sort of familial relationship with the two of them. But they were great. I mean you know it was really fun to get to work with other Indian actors, which is so rare. Usually like you’re the only South Asian actor of a set of a Hollywood movie. And then also, Pitobash who’s so great. He played Amit, the little guy. So he was so great. This was a great experience. Everyone was so great to work with.
Q: What do you hope people take away when they’re watching the Movie?
Aasif Mandvi: It’s a very American story. It’s a very sort of American Dream, the idea that anything is possible. I mean, I was talking Rinku about it – the real Rinku – and I was asking, do you feel like proud or whatever, he was kind of like really sort of philosophical about it and he kind of was like, “I don’t, like cause it’s just what happened to me. Like I just I went to this audition and this thing happened. It is a story for the world but for me, it’s just my life, it’s just what happened and now what I’m really interested in, is being the best baseball player that I can be.” So like he’s really focused on sort of just being a baseball player. This whole sort of like inspirational story that happened is really kind of the stuff that movies are made of. It’s not like relevant to his life as it is today.
Q: Now that the story is being told, how d you think it will impact those maybe in India, that gets a chance to see this story?
Aasif Mandvi: Um, I don’t know how it’ll impact people in India. I think that I’ll be curious to see. I think the stuff has an emotional element to it. There’s a sort of an Indian kind of pride sort of thing about it. But I don’t know how people will take to it. I know like for example, when “Slumdog Millionaire” came out, a lot of people in India didn’t like the Movie. They were sort of like, oh this is India for Western people, you know. Sometimes there’s a kind of exoticization – exoticization, is that even a word? (We laugh) An exoticism of India, you know what I mean? Like the poverty. But I think this movie actually takes a really great sort of realistic approach to like what it is, like that scene with Vivek and and JB where he’s talking about like where the posters. That is so the experience of the average Indian person in India. It’s a middle class Indian person’s life in India, which is like dealing with the bureaucracy and the sort of red tape of like the system. You know what I mean? Everything in India that is sort of like, makes it harder than it really should be. So I think there’s interesting sort of observations about India that are very true in this film. So I’ll be curious to see how it plays to the masses over there.